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Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson On Proposed Border Wall

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Trump administration is calling for bids on prototypes of a wall for the Mexican border and asking Congress to pay for it. But Democrats and Republicans are questioning whether a wall would be effective. And it's not at all clear whether Congress is going to provide the money for it.

Joining us to talk about the president's signature project is the former Democratic governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. He's testifying later today to a Senate subcommittee about the U.S.-Mexico wall. Thanks so much for being with us, Governor.

BILL RICHARDSON: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: What's your message going to be to the Senate committee today?

RICHARDSON: Well, my message is because of President Trump's referral of the wall - Mexico's going to pay for it, NAFTA needs to be renegotiated, we're going to deport millions from the U.S. back to Mexico - that the U.S.-Mexico relationship is in the worst shape that I've seen in the last 35 years.

And I'm basically going to say that this wall is not going to work, that it's an unfortunate symbol, that most of the illegal immigration comes through containers and other smuggling operations and most importantly, that Mexico's not going to pay for it. And this is a very bad policy decision which is ruining - almost ruining a relationship with one of our most important partners.

MARTIN: We should note, illegal immigration to the U.S. from Mexico has decreased since Donald Trump's election. If most everyone agrees that curbing illegal immigration is a worthy goal, then does his rhetoric appear to be having an effect as a deterrent?

RICHARDSON: I don't believe so. The - you know, I'm a border governor. The reduction in illegal immigration happened - started under the Obama administration. It's gradually been decreasing. I think you're seeing more border security, more border guards, more equipment, more technology that's reduced it.

And yes, President Trump's rhetoric - Mexicans feel that they're not welcome here. And the problem is that this is a very important country to us economically. It's our third-largest trading partner. Nearly 20 million Americans travel to Mexico every year. Fourteen million Mexican tourists come to the U.S. Foreign direct investment in the United States in 2015 from Mexicans was $52.5 billion.

So, you know, this is - 23 states count Mexico as their number one, number two export market. So Mexico also has some leverage over us, Rachel, on dealing with cartels, on immigration, on crime issues, on economic, energy issues. And if we lose that cooperation with Mexico, we're not going to be in good shape with our border state - with our border country that is so important to us.

MARTIN: As a former governor of a border state, you know what a problem illegal immigration is and has been for so long. If a border wall is not the answer, when you go before the Senate subcommittee today, in the spirit of not just presenting problems but trying to present solutions, what do you articulate as a better option than the wall?

RICHARDSON: Well, what I would say is comprehensive immigration, something that has eluded Republicans and Democrats in the last four administrations - more border security, more technology to do that but also a plan that would basically bring a path to citizenship to the 11 million that are in the United States. That's what I would do, comprehensive immigration reform.

MARTIN: Which, as we know, is easier said than done. Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, thanks so much for your time this morning.

RICHARDSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.